Irish Coffee is categorically delicious, and St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to make it (for breakfast, for dinner, for dessert, whatever). And you can make the best Irish coffee by simply using the right whiskey and a better cup of coffee. A good “mixing whiskey” (as opposed to a good sipping whiskey) is pretty easy to find and affordable. We might suggest Tullamore Dew or maybe Bushmills — solid mid-/mid-upper shelf stuff, since most of the nuance of a truly top-shelf whiskey will be lost when used for cocktails.
On the other hand, we recommend using the finest cup of coffee you can brew, because the preponderance of the cocktail, and thus its character, is composed of coffee. We don’t mean “finest” as in “most expensive” — we mean using best practices in brewing. As with the whiskey, if you use some legitimately nice expensive coffee, like some sub-continent stuff from Intelligentsia, a lot of those subtler basil/molasses/whatever notes will be obliterated.
FOUR EASY STEPS TO GOOD HOME-BREWED COFFEE
(1) Coffee is mostly water. Use good water. Reverse-osmosis filtered stuff is best, but if you gotta use something from a bottle, do it. Your tap water, with very few exceptions (New York City, San Francisco area–and even then, subject to plumbing/pipe particulates) will be horrible.
(2) Grind your own beans to brew, right before you are going to make the coffee. A cheap propeller grinder will do in a pinch (and is better, in our opinion, than pre-ground stuff from a store that’s been sitting around), but even a mid-level burr grinder for your home will make a huge difference.
(3) Make sure those beans are fresh. A couple of weeks from the roasting date. This means you probably aren’t buying your coffee in the super market.
(4) Use good coffee from a specialty coffee roaster. There are some national specialty coffee roasters that should do the trick (hey, if you like Starbucks, good on you; Peet’s, CB&TL, etc.). Our recommendation is to do some minimal research and find out if you have local roasters that primarily serve your area. You may even be able to visit the roastery and buy direct. There, you’ve gotten better, likely fresher coffee and you’re supporting small biz. Bonus.
Okay, so those are general coffee tips that will serve you in non-St. Paddy’s recipes and daily rituals as well. Back to the Irish.
When selecting a coffee to use in the St. Paddy’s cocktail, we recommend what some coffee aficionados refer to as a “bacon and eggs coffee.” In other words, something that’ll go with food or other tastes pretty
well; probably not a single-origin here. Most “breakfast blend” style coffees should suffice, probably medium roast rather than dark, because char-style coffee will mask all those years of barrel-aged flavor in the booze. An espresso blend might work well, because espresso blends are generally created with “balance” in mind.
You’re going to want a strongly brewed coffee to stand up to the other ingredients; our two favorite methods of brewing for Irish coffee are the moka pot (commonly and falsely referred to as the “stovetop espresso maker”) and the Aeropress (a relatively recent invention and genius single-serving coffee maker brought to you by the guy that invented the Aerobie flying disk. I kid you not.). Both methods create stronger coffee than simple drip does, particularly the Moka Pot, which tends to create a syrupy mouth feel and extract the earthy best from coffee grinds, while an Aeropress will generally be a cleaner cup, with a more standard mouth feel and less potency than a moka pot brew, yet certainly stronger than drip or even French press. If neither of those methods are available, any method of home-brew should do.
Okay, onto the recipe itself. We always start with the all-time classic, the Buena Vista Irish coffee recipe; San Francisco’s Buena Vista invented and popularized the U.S. version of Irish coffee beginning in 1952. It goes a little something like this:
Buena Vista Irish Coffee
- 6 oz. of hot coffee
- 2 sugar cubes or teaspoons of sugar
- 1.5 oz. of Irish whiskey
- Whipping cream
Whip the cream ahead of time. Mix all the other ingredients until the sugar dissolves, then top it off with the whipped cream.
If you are using one of the preferred brew methods we mentioned, you may need to play with the proportions a little, though honestly we like this.